TRESE in Philippine Star

‘Trese’ comics are a worthy homage to Monsters, Mythology and Metro Manila.
J. Vincent Sarabia Ong
Philippine Star : SUPREME

As I do not usually visit The Philippine STAR office, it was serendipitous that I found a mysterious package for me on a rare occasion that I was there. It must have been sent by dwendes, I thought, as I unwrapped it because it was the first time I received a book copy through mail and it found me despite my city-hopping schedule.

The dwende I discovered was Budjette Tan who is currently deputy executive creative director at Harrison Communications. He sent me the horror comic book “Trese” that he wrote and was drawn by aswang Kajo Baldismo who I heard was paid by drinking the blood of first-born children at McCann Erikson as an art director.

I certainly knew the package was of supernatural origin and that the tribe of gruesome ideas was on their side as I was also planning to write about the horror manga genre because of its popularity in local bookstores. The reason I never got to sink my teeth into it before was that there were so many titles to chose from among the comic creatures oozing from the bookshelves.

In this case, I was fortunate enough that I didn’t have to choose the comic; instead, it chose me. And as you read artist Gerry Alanguilan’s incantation in the introduction for “Trese Volume One,” you have NO idea what you’re in for. And you have no idea how excited I am for you, you find yourself already drawn to these creatures’ work. As I didn’t have any expectations from “Trese” like Alanguilan wrote, I was astonished how great a local comic book could be.

These are the monsters in your neighborhood
Yet, aside from the fear of being eaten alive by the creators of “Trese” as a midnight snack if I gave a bad review, I am glad that I devoured “Trese” because it is a fitting homage to monsters, mythology and Metro Manila. In the story, “Trese” refers to Alexandra Trese who owns the Diabolical barako cafe and is a private detective. The trouble refers to the criminal underworld but in the paranormal and occult sense. Hence, Trese, armed with her short Muslim sword called kris and backed up by her two bodyguards named Kambal, digs up supernatural scum such as tiyanaks, enkantos, white ladies, and other myths both urban and arcane.

The spell both Budjette and his partner Kajo cast comes not from their influences mentioned in past interviews like the comic book “Planetary” or “Twilight Zone” but rather from Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman.” The heroine Trese calmly interrogates a rich dragon man who is heir to a Chinese mall empire and in another panel seeks help from a Quiapo merchant who can talk to cats. The world of “Trese” is a place where you must suspend your disbelief and accept that crime has taken a weird turn as the authors describe it.

Yet, each “Trese” case is accessible because the authors bring us in by putting the haunting events in familiar places such as the subdivisions in Makati, the cemeteries in Kalayaan, the T.V studios in Quezon City, and even the malls we shop in on Ortigas. At the same time, the context of each story is a seamless mesh of Filipino myths like tikbalangs and local tabloid talk such as the illegal car races in Greenhills. Thus, enveloping us in tales that might actually be terrifyingly true and leaving you grinning whenever you go to a mall parking lot with the thought that tiyanaks might be close by. Yet, simultaneously, make you hope that Trese is also right behind you to shoot the hell out of these ugly demon babies.

Make that graveyard shift
After reading lamang lupa entrails and guts getting blown up into small mushy chunks, the most horrible conclusion I got from Trese is that there is potential for goosepimpling Filipino stories but it is neither being recognized nor is it being widely developed. This is especially after I read the chilling short story “The Witness” by Reno Maniquis and Carlo Borromeo that was the inspiration for Trese. We need to patronize local talent by buying their comics, sharing their comics with friends, allowing them to sell their comics at the same price as foreign titles or push them to distribute abroad in order that they may churn out more stories. For example, the creative team of “Trese” cannot continuously write comic books because of their need to do their day jobs. Thus, we lose the chance to know the creative possibilities of Trese and the other worlds of ingenious Filipino writers and artists unless we adequately support them. And if we do them justice, characters like Trese’s might be able to take the global stage and tell Superman and Captain America “tabi tabi po!”

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“Trese Comics” can be found at National Book Store, Powerbooks, and other comic books shops. Read issues online here, but don’t forget to buy the original printed copy! Also, Read “The Witness” here.